Showing posts with label goerges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label goerges. Show all posts

Friday, 25 January 2013

Putting it to a Public Vote



If tomorrow's Women's Singles Final was a popularity contest, an X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing with a "text now to vote for your favourite" format for example, Li Na would already have been handed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Yet although Li Na's love affair with Australia began with her final run in 2011, when she lost out to the Kim Clijsters comeback tour, and has seen her ingratiate herself with the crowd through her improving English and quirkily humourous on-court interviews, the reason why she will find the majority of the 15000 spectators of the Rod Laver Arena in her corner on Saturday will be less a result of anything she can control and more to do with the unpopularity of her opponent.

Despite being the defending champion, and throughout the course of 2012 making giant leaps to increase her favour with the general tennis public, Victoria Azarenka remains one of the more controversial figures on the tennis tour today.  An unapologetic exponent of the "grunt" (comedian Chris Ramsey suggested on Twitter that her withering shrieks were akin to someone "putting cigarettes out on the Easter Bunny"), Azarenka further alienated herself from the Melbourne hoards this year by taking an extended 10-minute medical time-out during her two set victory over American teenager Sloane Stephens.  At the time, the Belorussian was 61 53 40-15 up against her semi-final opponent.  But Stephens began to rally to save match points a total of 5 times during the game, before bringing up a game point of her own and duly converting, drawing the set back onto serve.  As the players returned to the chairs at the change of ends, the #1 seed called for the trainer, and after a quick analysis they disappeared into the locker room for some additional treatment.  10 minutes later, 10 minutes that Sloane Stephens spent waiting on the side of the court before what wass possibly the most important service game of her career so far, Azarenka re-emerged from back stage.  A confusing situation, for spectators, and likely for Stephens, saw the American broken immediately to hand the match to Azarenka 61 64.

The ensuing criticism for Azarenka'a actions suggests that there was an element of gamesmanship in the top seed's actions, that the renewed vigour in Stephens' game pulling her back into the set and gaining some momentum, was enough of a threat to cause Azarenka to dawdle at the changeover, upsetting her opponent's rhythm and stealing back the ascendancy in the match.  Azarenka countered this in the after-match press conference by saying that Stephens' fightback was causing panic attacks and that she felt as though she would have been unable to finish the match due to hyperventilation.  She also said that she had only taken a single (allowed) medical timeout, and that the trainer had over-run the time, and that she was on the verge of choking away her shot at a second straight Australian Open final.  She then continued to repeat this at numerous occasions over the past day with more excuses each time, perhaps protesting too much.

The only person who knows the true story, the reasons for and the nature of the treatment that was administered is Azarenka herself, so it is her version of events that should be accepted as valid.  Regardless of whether you believe the defending champion or think that there was some underhand tactics to her decision to pick that moment to request treatment for her problems, it has had the effect of overshadowing this year's final, and throwing into the shade the efforts of her opponent to reach the occasion.

Li Na has been something of a silent assassin at this year's Australian Open.  Her semi-final opponent, Maria Sharapova pulled all the headlines for an unparallelled dominance that saw her romp through her first five matches with the loss of just 9 games, making to the SF with just 6 hours of court play under her belt.  Li Na's most newsworthy moment came during her quarter-final defeat of #4 seed Aga Radwanska, when a shocking mistime saw her shank a serve high into the crowds.  Laughing it off on court showed just how far the Chinese player has come after wading through the slump that followed her French Open title in 2011.  Gone is the Li Na whose mental fragility was writ all over her excruciating first round losses.  And what has taken its place is a renewed aggression, coupled with unwavering determination.  Perhaps a product of her work with her recent post-Olympic coaching appointment, Carlos Rodriguez, the rocking ship has steadied to see Li Na returning to some of the form that saw her through to the '11 Australian Open final, and her first slam title later that spring.

Like Sharapova, Li Na advanced to the semi-final without the loss of a set, her sternest test coming from the young German Julia Goerges, who pushed the Chinese star to a 75 first set.  Yet the ruthlessness with which she dispatched her quarter-final opponent, Radwanska, with such controlled aggression, should have indicated that the match against last year's beaten finalist wouldn't be a foregone conclusion.  In fact, it was exactly the opposite, with Li Na the dominant player, and Sharapova the shaky pretender.  A solid display of (thankfully more accurate) serving, some inspired shot play and ground strokes that upset the rhythm of the #2 seed, made Sharapova visibly rattled and unable to gain any traction in the match, Li Na running out a surprisingly easy winner 62 62 in just over 90 minutes.

Going in to her match against the Belorussian tomorrow, Li Na may tail her opponent 4-5 in the head to head, but has looked the more solid player.  And whatever flakiness tickled Azarenka in her semi-final, it is more revealing that she has already lost a set during the tournament during her third round encounter with the unseeded Jamie Hampton.  An Azarenka victory may have been the outcome that day, but should a similar lapse in concentration occur tomorrow, the calibre of Li Na may not allow the Belorussian an opportunity to regain a foothold in the match.  Both players have racked up recent defeats of the other, Li Na in an exhibition in Asia during the off-season, but more crucially, Azarenka defeating the Chinese player during the Year End Cup in Istanbul.  On that occasion, Li Na was within touching distance of an early lead, serving for the first set at 54 in her favour, but ultimately threw it away with some sloppy play.  Azarenka was to take the match and the place in the next round.

Calling Saturday's final will be a difficult pick to make.  Azarenka is undefeated on the Australian continent for 2 years, while Li Na has only been beaten at the Australian Open since 2010 by one player - Kim Clijsters.  And although Azarenka may feel the wrath of an antipathetic crowd under the lights of the Rod Laver Arena, there is a sense that her thick skin allows her to thrive within such an environment.  The crucial factor, though, should be that the Li Na who faces her on the weekend is mentally tougher than she has ever been, and will be aware that at 8 years Azarenka's senior may not have too many more opportunities to add to the solitary Slam trophy currently sitting in her cabinet.  She will be many people's favourite to win, and will have the crowd to lift her to what could be a thoroughly deserved victory.

Match prediction: Li Na to win the Australian Open 2013

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Australian Open Seed Watch Women's Draw R4

Seeds in draw at the start of Round 4: 12

Kerber on her way out of the competition
(5) Angelique Kerber lost to (19) Ekaterina Makarova

It may be a love affair between Ekaterina Makarova and Melbourne Park, as year after year, she ploughs through the seeds and dumps them out of the draw.  In her wake after the fourth round was Germany's Angelique Kerber.  Kerber looked decidedly below par during the match, and despite Makarova throwing away a 52 lead in the first set, she was unable to overcome niggling injury worries to stake too much of a claim on the match.  Extensive on-court treatment eventually saw her succumb 75 64, Makarova now making the last 8 of the Australian Open for the second straight year.  Next up - the all-firing Maria Sharapova.

(10) Caroline Wozniacki lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova

While it is hardly surprising that the struggling Caroline Wozniacki failed to make it past the fourth round of the competition, the resurgence of the former world #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova is of more interest.  The Russian, who is currently playing at 73 places lower than her highest ranking, is playing her first major after skipping the US Open with a knee injury.  Despite a second set wobble, Kuznetsova's power proved too much for the Dane who may drop out of the top 10 in the World for the first time in over 2 years.  Kuznetsova remains the only non-seeded player in the women's draw.  Final score: 62 26 75.

(13) Ana Ivanovic lost to (4) Agnieszka Radwanska

A characteristically inconsistent display from Ana Ivanovic played right into the hands of the patient strategist in Aga Radwanska who turned over a simple 62 64 win over the Serb.  It was the 13th straight victory for the Pole this year, and will see her move forward to face Li Na in the last 8.

(14) Maria Kirilenko lost to (3) Serena Williams

In what was not really much of a contest, Russia's Maria Kirilenko received a 62 60 thumping from the American #3 seed.  With nearly 90% of her first serves going in, Williams gave her opponent scant opportunity to make a mark during her serve, and hit 22 winners but only 6 unforced errors.  Williams sets up a tantalising clash against young charge Sloane Stephens in the next round.

(18) Julia Goerges lost to (6) Li Na

Proving why she is one of the tips for the final rounds of the competition, Li Na came through a competitive first set without any of her usual mental fragility to overcome her young opponent in the 76(6) 61.  It is the first time that Li Na has progressed to this stage of a Slam since her Roland Garros triumph in 2011.  Perhaps attributable to the firm hand of recent coaching appointment Carlos Rodriguez, Li Na looks stronger both mentally and agilely than she has done in the past 18 months.

Seeds remaining in the draw: 7

Saturday, 12 January 2013

This Year's Wozniacki

2 weeks, 9 matches, 18 sets played, 18 sets won including a double bagel in the final of her second successful championship of the year.

This probably reads like Serena Williams' resume. In fact it's the start to the season of current world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who has taken the unorthodox route of eschewing the seed-heavy tournaments at the beginning of the year in favour of some more guaranteed trophy moments in the less well attended events.

Her first January 2013 stop was Auckland, New Zealand where she was the only member of the top 20 scheduled to play, Brisbane being the preferred destination of the WTA stars.  Indeed she was some 19 places higher than her closest rival, Julia Goerges, who did great favours to the Polish player by skipping out of the contest at the hands of world #69 Johanna Larsson in the second round.  Not facing a seeded player until the final, Radwanska secured a comparatively easy tournament victory to start her year.

2 titles already for Radwanska this year
Moving onto the Premier event this week in Sydney, Radwanska faced sterner opposition, but was again the top seeded player (Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all opting to prep for the impending Australian Open rather than risk fatiguing themselves for some unnecessary ranking points).  Yet with a field consisting of Nadia Petrova, Sara Errani, Sam Stosur, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, Radwanska only faced one other seed on her way to the final.

That player was Li Na, who was also on an unbeaten run for 2013 having picked up tournament accolades in Shenzhen the week previously.  Meeting at the semi-final stage the match was billed as a battle of the 100%-ers, but when it began, with a prolonged opening service game from the Chinese player, it was Radwanska who seized the initiative, breaking from the outset and maintaining the pressure to progress to the final comfortably 61 64, albeit needing 7 match points before she closed out the last game.  Her victory stemmed from her consistent, but deeply patient gameplan, seeing her hit just 3 winners to Li Na's 28, but making only 15 unforced errors compare to the #4 seed's 40.  It was a turnaround from 2012 when Li Na had dispatched the Pole in all three of their hard court meetings without the loss of a set.

In the final Radwanska was to meet a resurgent Dominika Cibulkova who, in addition to dispatching Kvitova and Errani from the competition, had the previous day dominated the decidedly flat-looking second seed Angelique Kerber, the German perhaps suffering from the sweltering Sydney heat - reportedly tipping 40 degrees at times.   Playing some fast and precise tennis, the diminutive Slovak irked her semi-final opponent into some rushed strokes, before fistpumping her way to the final.  Unfortunately, the Radwanska steadiness demolished the Slovak's chances, taking the match with the first double bagel of 2013 - 60 60.  It was a dominant display that saw Radwanska absorb Cibulkova's superior firepower with her defensive sensibilities, and continually chase down one extra ball to frustrate her opponent into an error.

Whether the triumvirate at the top of the game will feel threatened going into the Australian Open by Radwanska's perfect display is still up for debate, they will perhaps register an increased awareness of her placing within the draw.  For although the Pole is ranked #4 in the world and with 3 titles to her name in 2012 and 2 already for 2013, her Slam record is less impressive.  Just a solitary final appearance sits above a myriad of lukewarm campaigns that have seen her consistently peak around the quarter or fourth round stage.  Indeed, last year's Wimbledon final where she took Serena Williams to three sets, was as unexpected in its unfolding as it was for Radwanska's presence as Williams' opponent.

What is unarguable though, is that Radwanska is the highest ranked player in the WTA who has yet to lift a Grand Slam trophy, a position similar to that which Andy Murray had found himself in for a number of years in the ATP.  However, while Murray's inadequacies were predominantly attributed to the three men above him who had dominated the tour for the past 5 years, Radwanska's may be better described as shortcomings within her style.  Although the best at defensive play and with a solid returning game facilitated by perhaps the most tactically sound, chess-match mind in the WTA at the moment, if her opponent is able to raise their power game to a consistently precise level (Williams and Azarenka particularly), Radwanska is liable to crumble.  Indeed, even outside of the top three should someone lower in the rankings such as Li Na, or Kvitova or even Stosur be playing with the effortless perfection that took them to their maiden Slam titles, Radwanska would also come out of the contest as the second best player.

Therefore, a better comparison for the Radwanska conundrum would be Caroline Wozniacki rather than Andy Murray.  The Dane was frequently criticised for holding the #1 ranking for over a year, but with only 1 Slam final appearance and no Slam title to her name.  Radwanska, who has been as high as #2 in the WTA rankings, has followed a similar biography, winning at Premier and Mandatory level, but never graduating to sustained success in the four majors.  And although she may be the player with the best record in 2013, it is unlikely that she will be considered by too many to be the player to watch at the upcoming Australian Open. The goals for Radwanska's 2013 should be to progress beyond the quarter final at all of the four majors (in line with her ranking) and ultimately to win one of the titles.  However, the latter is a tall ask considering the women above her, but it is an even taller ask if she fails to advance her game to a more aggressive level.  Being able to beat 3 other top 10 players including 2 of those in the top 3 in succession during a tournament would rely on a series of lacklustre and out-of-character performances from her opponents, for at the moment, she may be able to win this way against one seed, but may not sustain it over the course of a full-strength tournament.

For Radwanska, a little bit of luck may be needed to see her through to her second Slam final and ultimately a major tournament trophy moment.  And if the victory doesn't come within the year, she could stand to be the player on tour with the best record at the less-critical events, but ultimately as slamless as Caroline Wozniacki throughout 2013.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Purple and Green: Stories From Wimbledon Day 6

Yaroslav Shvedova's Golden Set

During the first set of her third round match against the French Open runner-up Sara Errani this morning, Yaroslav Shvedova, an unseeded Kazakhstan player, pulled off the phenomenal feat of a golden set.  She served a total of 7 first serve points and 5 second serve points, while Errani served 9 first serves and 3 second serves.  A total of 24 points.  Shevdova won them all - 24 points in a row to win the first set 60.

There is only one recorded example of this being achieved before at a top level professional event: Bill Scanlon back in 1983 at Delray Beach.  Shevdova's accomplishment is the first time that this has been achieved in a Grand Slam event.

Vika quietly into last 16

One player who has been solidly advancing through the draw with little noise from the media has been Victoria Azarenka.  As odd as it seems for a player who at the start of the year captured both the Australian Open title and the no. 1 ranking spot, then advanced to a 26-match unbeaten run for the season.

So far at Wimbledon she has progressed through the first three rounds convincingly, taking out the American Irina Falconi in the first round 61 64, Romina Operandi 61 60 in the second and earlier today Jana Cepelova of Slovakia 63 63.  Although she has yet to face any stern opposition, the ease with which she has taken her first three matches could mean that she shouldn't be ignored as a potential contender for the title this year.

Azarenka's victory means she will face her first seed in the last 16 - Ana Ivanovic - who defeated Julia Goerges on Court 2 under the lunchtime sunshine today.

Pre-tournament talk focused predominantly on the World number 1 Maria Sharapova, defending champion Petra Kvitova and 4-time former champion Serena Williams.  With Sharapova through already, Kvitova and Williams were in action today.  The defending champion from the Czech Republic breezed through her 3rd round encounter against the American Varvara Lepchenko, losing only 1 game 61 60.

For Williams, though, she was troubled by the 25th seed from China, Zheng Jie.  Losing the first set on a tie-break, the American favourite was made to run by the flat and precise shots from Zheng, who demonstrated that the best way to play Serena Williams was to force the error by exposing her occasional lack of movement.  By contrast, Zheng hustled and raced all over the court, taking the ball early to remove the time for Serena to swing cleanly at the ball.

With her serve seemingly impenetrable, Serena crashed the second set 62, setting the tone for the final set.  However, with neither player giving an inch on their serve and Serena's UE count increasing under the bombardment from Zheng, it wasn't until the 15th game that someone made the breakthrough ... and that someone was Serena Williams, who suddenly seemed to find the lines while down on Zheng's serve 40-15.  Taking that game, she was pushed to deuce while serving for the match, and it was evident from the pleading fist-pumping that she directed at her box that she wanted to win this match so much.  And despite more ferocious footspeed from the Chinese player, Serena eventually closed out the match with a crisp backhand volley, taking her through to the last 16, where her opponent will be the golden girl Shvedova.  Final score 67 62 97.

11:02 pm

Due to some Local Council legislation that prohibits the Wimbledon championships being played after 11 pm at night, Andy Murray's match against Marcos Baghdatis, last up on centre court, became something of a race against the clock in a bid to complete the third round on the middle Saturday without having to come back on Monday morning to finish their game.

What looked to be straightforward for Murray who scored a break at the end of the first set to take it 75, turned into an ordeal as he appeared to aggravate injuries by slipping on the court a number of times, as well as aggravating his temper when balls started working their way out of his pockets and voiding the point. Baghdatis didn't help matters by taking the second set 63, after a number of incredibly close, long deuce games, and the organisers were forced to close the roof.

Under the roof, Murray started to find his range, but the Cypriot was on hand to break back any leads that Murray had, and Murray was forced to bide his time and break again towards the end of the set 75 to set up the fourth set.

Approaching 25 to 11, and the allotted curfew time for the competition, both players looked to have a sense of urgency, and Murray was quick to capitalise on the errors that crept into Baghdatis' game because of it.  Up a break within the first 5 minutes, Murray compounded the lead, and at 4-1 he broke again as the courtside clock brought up the 11th hour.  The umpire allowed them to play on, and Murray served out the match to win 75 36 75 61, booking his place in the 4th round and drawing a nice neat line under Wimbledon week 1 ... only 2 minutes later than expected.

Set stats from official Wimbledon site
Azarenka image from official Wimbledon site (AELTC / Matthias Hangst)
Serena image from the tumblr of tennissimo

Friday, 15 June 2012

Top Seed Blues

Defending Halle champion Philipp Kohlschreiber
How refreshing, Bad Gastein aside, after the lengthy holiday on the dusty red clay, to see players conducting their rallies on the green of Europe's grass courts.

Halle, Birmingham and the Queens Club in London are all hosting tournaments in this first week since Roland Garros, with many of the biggest names in the ATP getting their first taste of the grass this season.  In Halle, Germany, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal head up the field, while Britain's Andy Murray and Jo-WIlfried Tsonga headed to London to try and recreate their final of last year - which the Scot won.

In the WTA's events, Julia Goerges led out a middling field in Bad Gastein (the Olympic-bumped clay court event in Austrian) while Birmingham's defending champion Sabine Lisicki joined top seeds Francesca Schiavone, Mona Barthel and Daniella Hantuchova to head up the draw in what has proved so far to be a rain-sozzled tournament.

However, this week has proved a bad week to be a #1 as 5 days into the grass court season, all four of the top seeds (and a fair few of the #2s and #3s) have fallen by the wayside, which in 3 of the events will lead to some unlikely candidates making it through the draw to the final.

In Halle, Nadal, a day later than planned (after his weather-delayed RG win) headed into Halle as the top seed, with Roger Federer propping up the draw.  Usually a shoe-in to the finals, Nadal looked to be experiencing something of a clay-court hangover as he struggled against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber.  Kohlschreiber, the defending champion at the Halle event, put on a superlative serving display to subdue the Spaniard and register his first win in 13 attempts against the world #2.  He faces the resurgent Tommy Haas, enjoying a swansong season in his mid-thirties, who today outlasted the third seed in the tournament, Tomas Berdych.  Halle's now depleted field paves the way for Roger Federer, who took needed three sets to defend the serving barrage from heavily favoured Canadian Milos Raonic.  Federer will be looking to secure his 75th career title on the grass of Halle.

The other ATP event has been even worse for the top players.  All four of the top men, Murray, Tsonga, Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon have fallen, leaving the Marin Cilic the highest ranked player left in the draw.  Sam Querrey and David Nalbandian also remain in the draw and will be hoping that they can register a win heading into Wimbledon.

Andy Murray's second round game was against the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who will always go down in history as the guy who didn't win the 70-68 final set against John Isner back at Wimbledon 2010.  However,  he has spent the past two weeks attempted to rechristen himself as a giant killer - first by hammering another nail in the coffin of Andy Roddick in the first round of Roland Garros, then daring to take a set off Roger Federer in the second.  A large amount of self-belief as well as some canny play, using angles, drop shots and superior speed, saw him dent British hopes of a home win on the grass this summer by taking out Andy Murray in a tournament many expected him to successfully defend.

Jankovic still standing in Birmingham
Julia Goerges' departure from the WTA Bad Gastein tournament earlier in the week leave journeymen such as Alice Cornet and Yanina Wickmeyer with the opportunity to win their first silverware of the season.  While the early defeats of all of the top four (Lisicki, Schiavone, Barthel and Hantuchova) leaves Jelena Jankovic with a big chance to put her career back on track after what have been a dismal couple of years for her.

With Federer the only star turn to turn in a star performance, the top players will be nursing their wounds all the way to Wimbledon where they will hope that ranking will stand for for something once again.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Bad Choices at Bad Gastein

A nibble on the handle of the Muskateer's Cup for Rafael Nadal should symbolise the end of the clay court season, as players tap the last of the red dust from the grooves of their shoes before swapping them for more suitable grass court treads.

However, over in Austria, some of the WTA have booked themselves onto the worst possible warm-up for the grass court season - the Nurnberger Gastein Ladies 12 - a $37,000 280 point clay court tournament curiously stuck at the start of the grass season. Sharing the week with Birmingham, Halle and Queens in London, it's an anomalous continuation of red clay love while the others plan for the coming grass season and its pinnacle at Wimbledon.

Wouldn't you rather play Birmingham, Julia?
Top seed at Bad Gastein, Julia Goerges, epitomises the futility of the scheduling. After her first week exit at Roland Garros she travelled to Halle to play a grass court exhibition match before skipping the border to Austria for the clay event.

Bad Gastein's unfortunate scheduling is a direct result of the Olympics, being bumped from its usual late July slot as the now-prestigious medal event pulls rank. An infant of a tournament, Bad Gastein has only been held five times previous to 2012, and has seen players such as Francesca Schiavone, Andrea Petkovic and Goerges triumph on its courts.

Despite her previous pedigree at the event, and her top seed billing, the teenage Goerges failed to make it through her opening match, perhaps fortuitously granting her more time to perfect her grass court moves. Her defeat also leaves Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer as the top seed remaining in an otherwise underwhelming field.

Hopefully, without the usurping Olympic Games cramping its style, Bad Gastein can recover in 2013 with a stronger field and a return to its usual July calendar space.

image from wikimedia / James Boyes

Saturday, 26 May 2012

l'Anglais

British hopes in the main ATP draw rest, as always, solely upon the shoulders of Andy Murray.

The fourth seed has a tough route through his quarter, starting against the Japanese player Tatsuma Ito. His second round match may see him face either Jarkko Nieminen or the Russian Igor Andreev. A possible upset needs to be avoided during a potential round three tussle against the promising Australian teenager Bernard Tomic, while Richard Gasquet or Alexandr Dolgopolov, or maybe even Tommy Haas, await in the fourth round.

In the business end of the tournament, Murray lucked out, landing David Ferrer in his quarter. Even though the Spaniard hasn't gone beyond the quarter finals of the French Open before in 9 attempts, he has been solid on clay this year bagging three titles in South America, and could see the opportunity that a struggling Murray may bring him.

Finally, in order to make the Sunday final, Murray must then get through Rafael Nadal. No mean feat with the Spaniard looking indomitable on the surface this spring.

A tough draw for the Scot, and he will need to be on peak form to equal his semi-final placing of 2011.

Women's hopes for Roland Garros are better represented than the men's with three players making the main draw.

Baltacha drew #6 seed Sam Stosur in R1
Top seeded Brit, Elena Baltacha was handed a bogey draw, facing former finalist and current US champion Samantha Stosur in the first round. The 67th seeded Scot will have to play the match of her life or rely on some serendipity to swing the tie her way, having only managed to beat Stosur once back in 2003 when both were of a similar ranking early in their respective careers.

Elsewhere, Anne Keothavong could fare better. She drew Melinda Czink in R1 and should she topple the Hungarian, may play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in R2. The 22nd seeded Russian has struggled all season, so Keothavong may rack up her first ever Roland Garros wins this campaign.

Also making the draw by coming through qualifying is Guernsey resident Heather Watson. If she gets through her tricky first round match against Russia's Elena Vesnina she could potentially face the German teen Julia Goerges (ranked 25 in the WTA standings).

The 20-year old Watson made the second round of Roland Garros in 2011, before falling to the 16th seed Kaia Kanepi in straight sets.

While Watson made it through qualifying, British teenager Laura Robson failed to make it to the main draw. Falling at the final hurdle Robson will have to play the waiting game, and should anyone drop out between now and 11 am on Sunday morning she could win back a spot in the tournament as a lucky loser.

Image from Christian Mesiano via Wikimedia

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Petko's Luck

Three games into her return after a four-month lay-off with a back injury, Andrea Petkovic's comeback looked to be right on track.

Her participation in Germany's Fed Cup tie against a storming Aussie team saw her chalk up one loss and one win, her loss coming at the hands of the Sam Stosur, whose clay dominance over the Germans was in evidence throughout most of the weekend. Petkovic was a late substitute into the match, having originally been scheduled to just play doubles. After Julia Goerges lacklustre display against Jarmilla Gajdosova the number 11 seed was drafted in to attempt to claw back the 2-0 deficit the Germans found themselves in before the reverse singles rubbers, but she struggled against the heavy top spin of Stosur and could only manage 5 games in a 6-4 6-1 defeat, handing the tie and return to the elite world group to the Australians.

A dead rubber doubles win for Petkovic alongside Goerges was a much softer re-entry back into the tennis fray. Much like Venus Williams after her time-out, the Fed Cup served as a stepping stone to mainstream action.

The tie was also played in Petkovic's back yard of Stuttgart where this week's premier WTA tournament is also being played and has attracted all of the top 8 players on tour. For her first match back on tour she was gifted a Wild Card opponent in Kristina Barrois. A straight 6-4 6-1 victory for the #11 seed set up a tie against the current top seed Victoria Azarenka.

The match today wholly went the way of the Belarus star in the first set, proving that Petkovic still has a way to go to return to the form she was exhibiting towards the end of last season.

The second set started off closer, until at four games all, Petkovic's luck turned decidedly bad. In a move eerily similar to those of Juan Monaco and Julien Benneteau's last week, the German moved to her right to pick off a forehand, tripping heavily as the expected slide didn't occur and her right foot turned under her on the clay. Unfortunately for her, the outcome was much the same and Petkovic was forced to retire from the match, MRI scans are scheduled for tomorrow and could reveal a particularly nasty ankle sprain.

The unfortunate injury will see Petkovic out of the tour once again and she may not return before Wimbledon. It may also scupper her chances of automatic inclusion in the German Olympic team, with so many other German players hanging around the top 30 and pushing for places in the squad.

The rest of the Germans had mixed fortunes today. Goerges couldn't escape from her tie against Stosur this week, and despite picking up a set, eventually lost out to the Australian 6-2 2-6 6-3. Angelique Kerber, though, fared better, taking out Caroline Wozniacki in two sets 6-1 6-2 in a little over an hour. Finally, Mona Barthel reasserted her claim to the title of giant-slayer of the year by slingshotting Marion Bartoli 6-1 6-3, setting up a R3 tie against Azarenka.

image from kicker.de

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Stuttgart or Bust

It is hard not to like the Stuttgart Porsche Grand Prix being contested by the WTA this coming week. With the whole top 8 in attendance it starts off as a Gran Slam tournament in the third round where every seed has made it through their tricky acclimatising first round matches.

In the top half of the draw, Victoria Azarenka will be looking to cement her hard court dominance with strong performances on clay. The draw has lucked her both her existing rivalries, as her QF opponent could well be Marion Bartoli (the last and only player to beat her this season) and she may then face Aga Radwanska in the semis.

Radwanska though, needs to first get past Li Na, who's need to exorcise recent demons is greater than anyone else's on tour.  Li Na will hope to push for a red clay victory in the build up to the defence of her French Open title.

The bottom half of the draw is just as brimming with talent. Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Sam Stosur and Maria Sharapova take the seeded positions, but with Jelena Jankovic being Wozniacki's first match, and potential giant-slayers like Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges also floating about the draw, quarters and semis are far from determined.

With a warm-up this weekend in the Fed Cup tie against Germany, Aussie Sam Stosur could be the surprise finalist from this half. Her professed love of the surface and two recent confidence-boosting wins at the venue could catapult her to her first tournament victory since lifting the trophy at the US Open last September. In addition, the absence of any Williams in the draw will be an omen from which she can draw some positives.

image from: http://au.eurosport.com/tennis/

2008 Revisited

In the tennis-sphere it could well be 2008 again. Rafael Nadal exacted a drubbing on the dusty Monte Carlo clay to Novak Djokovic in today's final, a harking back to the time when the Spaniard dominated on the surface. While over in the Fed Cup Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic were exhibiting the poise and determination in their tie against Russia that had eluded them since they reached the top of the rankings back in Summer 2008.

Jankovic's Serbia have plenty to smile about
An odd squad selection by the Russian coach saw Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova picked for singles ahead of Maria Kirilenko. Granted Pavs has a better record against both of the Serbs, but her form has been woeful since the beginning of the year and she obliged the form guide and her opposition by losing both singles rubbers. With an additional win from Jankovic against Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Serbs pulled off an upset against the heavily favoured Russian squad, reaching their first final in their 18 year history in the competition.

Waiting for them in the final, scheduled for November, will be the defending champions the Czech Republic. Their 4-1 victory over Italy this weekend revealed how the significant strengths of a player such as the world number three, Petra Kvitova, can bring out the best of those around her, despite the calibre of the opposition.

A similar phenomenon was in evidence in Stuttgart as Sam Stosur led from the front, capturing two straight set singles victories. Jarmilla Gajdosova backed up her star player by pulling off an against-the-odds win over Julia Goerges. The hapless German team may have the best team camaraderie, but fell far short when called upon on court. The 3-2 victory marks the Australians return to the World Group after their demotion last year at the hands of the Italians.

Joining them back in the top flight in 2013 will be the USA, who pulled off the only 5-0 whitewash in the top leagues this weekend. Serena Williams playing her part with two straightforward wins over an inexperienced and greatly outclassed Ukrainian squad.

Japan, spearheaded by the talismanic Kimiko Date-Krumm, also secured a world group spot after subduing an injury-ravished Belgian side unable to field any of its top three players.

Finally, Slovakia round out the WG elite 8 following their victory against Spain. Daniella Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova wrapping up the singles with three wins between them.

image from AFP via sports.yahoo.com

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Kerber and Those Feisty Germans

Angelique Kerber today stunned Caroline Wozniacki at her home tournament in Copenhagen, walking away with her second tournament for the season with a 6-4 6-4 victory.

Kerber's win denies Wozniacki yet another tournament victory, meaning that the struggling Dane is now without a championship win for 2012. More significantly, Wozniacki has now failed to successfully defend four of the six titles she won in 2011, losing out at Dubai, Indian Wells, Charleston and now Copenhagen. Her two remaining titles being the clay court event in Brussels coming up in May and the post-Wimbledon New Haven Cup in August.

Aside from highlighting Kerber's breakthrough season (in which she could land herself a top 10 finish if she can sustain her Q1 form through the rest of the majors) and Wozniacki's fall from supremacy, the win also brings to the fore the current renaissance in German women's tennis.

With the spectre of Steffi Graf's significant achievements looming over her successors for much of the 90s and 00s, it seems that now, the generation she inspired is finally realising their potential as a dominant force in women's tennis.

Currently there are four Germans in the top twenty of the rankings, Andrea Petkovic, Kerber, Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges. Backing them up is the other promising Deutsche teenager Mona Barthel, currently sitting just outside the top 30.

In February's World Group Fed Cup tie against Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova and the rest of the Czech team, the luckless German squad was unable to field Petkovic, their strongest singles player, which led to boom-boom Lisicki, their second player and one of the hardest hitters on tour, somewhat caving under the pressure of Kvitova's superior consistency. Consequently, Germany find themselves in a play-off against a spirited Australian team led heroically, by Sam Stosur.

The match couldn't indicate a wider disparity between the two nations who are both vying for a return to the World Group with a victory at the tie next weekend. Although the Australians possess the strongest individual player in Stosur, they cannot boast the same depth in numbers that Germany does. Gajdosova and Rodionova sit at 50 and 94 respectively, and the remainder of the team is frequently made up of either Dokic or Dellacqua, two players currently flailing and on the decline outside the top 100.

In the forthcoming tie the Germans find themselves without the injury-prone Lisicki, but have the return of Petko from a 4-month back injury to redress the balance. With strength in depth it is hard to look past the Germans for the eventual winners of the tie, as even though Stosur will relish the clay of Stuttgart and probably lead the team to two singles victories, it is hard to see her fellow Aussies causing Petkovic, Goerges or Kerber too many problems in the alternate rubbers.

A similar story arises in the doubles where the stuttering pre-Olympic experimental pairing of Stosur/Dellacqua has yet to show promise in any of its three previous outings, despite Stosur's obvious pedigree as a former Slam doubles champion.

Despite Stosur's best efforts (and on clay those efforts are likely to be the highlights of the tie) Germany's superior strength-in-depth should be ample enough to secure the victory needed to take them through to the next round of the competition.

Kerber image from pokerpurist.com
Graf image from wikimedia commons / flickr / mister-e

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Nothing Interesting Here

It's a slow week in the tennis world this week.

The ATP, just off the back of some Davis Cup ties, slips quietly into the clay season with tournaments in Houston and Casablanca. Typically attended by the Americans in Houston and clay-court specialists from the lower ranks in Morocco, the outcomes seem almost irrelevant in the grand scheme of the tennis calendar

The big four have gifted themselves a well-earned rest this past fortnight and Nadal, Murray and Djokovic kick-off the action proper in the first major event on the clay in Monte Carlo. With Djokovic and Murray on one side of the draw and Nadal and #4 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the other, Monte Carlo looks set to answer a few of the questions surrounding Djokovic's ability to complete a calendar slam on this most elusive of surfaces, and Nadal's chances of defending his Roland Garros title, the tournament at which he broke through as a teenager and has dominated, record-breakingly, over the past 8 years.

For the women, there is also a hiatus between the Charleston final and the semi-finals of the Fed Cup next weekend.

Like the men there's a clay court primer this week in Barcelona. Shock early exits for Julia Goerges and Francesca Schiavone leave Dominika Cibulkova and Sara Errani contesting Sunday's final. Errani will move to two titles for the year should she be victorious. That's more than Stosur, Sharapova, Kvitova, Li Na and Bartoli combined.

The other WTA event this week is a more curious affair. The Copenhagen Open, sponsored by E-Boks is a toddler of a tournament, having its inaugural championship in 2010.

It is also peculiarly scheduled, a hard court indoor tournament contested after the start of the clay court season. It did recently consider resurfacing to red clay, but financial circumstances have hindered this transformation and it currently remains a hard-court competition.

Most notably, though, the event has in it's two-year history only ever had one winner, having been won by the Danish former number one Caroline Wozniacki.

Cynically, it could be argued that the event is heavily weighted in favour of its hometown superstar. The surface is obviously a preference for her, and the event never attracts many of the other top players. Consequently, Wozniacki has a win-streak of played 14 won 14 at the tournament. Despite a troubled season (which to her credit she hasn't capitulated to, and has continued to play her matches in her typically laid back style) she has once again breezed through the early rounds to earn her right to contest the final.

However, her opponent on Sunday could prove to be a party pooper for the Danish fans. Part of the current German renaissance, Angelique Kerber is one of the breakthrough players of this year's WTA season. Claiming her first tour title in Paris this spring, backed up with consistent semi-final appearances, Kerber has already dispatched one former number one on her way to the final by routing Jelena Jankovic in the semi-final 61 62.

Wozniacki is desperately in need of a win for the season, to banish the spectre of falling rankings, early exits and tournament defence failures. However, the in-form Kerber could turn out to be the player to finally end the Dane's Copenhagen run.


Photo from the e-boks site.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Saga of Maria and Aga

So far in 2012 Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska have played a total of 7 tournaments combined this year.  Barring one QF blip for Sharapova against Angelique Kerber in Paris, the only player to have beaten either of them on tour is Victoria Azarenka.

With Marion Bartoli capping the emotionally drained Belorussian's winning run for the year on 26 (some 17 wins short of Djokovic's tally for 2011) with a huge display of flat and fast double-fisted groundstrokes, and the apparent hamstring injury that railroaded her chances in her semi-final against Radwanska, the door is now open for either the number 2 or the number 5 seed to capitalise on Azarenka's absence and claim the Miami Sony Ericsson Open this evening.

The Miami final is set to be a classic mix of styles.  On one side of the net is Sharapova - the ultimate big-hitter, with the groundstrokes to power the ball beyond the reach of the players.  However, Sharapova is prone to a misfiring serve, and can frequently tot up a significant number of double faults throughout a tournament week to warrant a double-take.  Similarly, the hard and fast forehand can often be equally inaccurate, and if a player can contain her enough to prevent her finding the lines (as Azarenka did at the Australian Open this winter) her inferior movement and court coverage can lead to her looking distinctly average.

Contrastingly, Radwanksa is typically a more steady, conservative player.  'Counter-puncher' may not be considered the most flattering handle to give to a player's game, but it is, perhaps, the best catch-all to sufficiently describe the Pole's consistency, anticipation and tactical game-play.  She may not hit as hard as Sharapova, but she can do enough, forcing her into hitting one more ball each rally than she thinks she needs to and inviting the error through frustration.  Her tactics in the match could see her utilising the slice and drop-shot to trouble Maria moving forward.  Even though Sharapova has come to the net frequently and with much success throughout Miami fortnight, she prefers to do it on her terms, rather than through the strategic dictation of her opponent.

Their previous meetings have mostly gone the way of the Russian, Radwanska not having beaten her in nearly 5 years of trying.  Interestingly, though, they have not played since last year's French Open.  In the 10 months since, Sharapova has made 2 Grand Slam finals (Wimbledon '11 and Australia '12) and captured one title in Cincinnati in August.  But Radwanska has cemented a strong 2011 break-out season in which she picked up 3 titles in the latter half of the year, with one further title already for 2012, the championship in Dubai where she defeated Julia Goerges in the final.

The season momentum is undoubtedly with Radwanska, Sharapova having struggled with an ankle injury over the new year, forcing her to cut back on the number of tournaments played.  It will, though, take a huge and determined effort from Radwanska to set up enough blockades to counteract the Russian's superior firepower throughout the match and frustrate her into making enough mistakes to cancel out the inevitable winners.  Wozniacki was unable to do it, and although, Aga is better at the defensive game than the Dane, Maria should have an extra gear to kick into to pull off a much-needed win for her season. Should Maria be on the form that she is capable of, she should also be able to punish the Radwanska second serve, a definite weakness in the young Polish player's game.

Whatever happens, they both owe Marion Bartoli a drink (probably one of those fine full-bodied French wines) for doing them a huge favour and putting out the world number 1.

image from http://www.mariasharapova.com

Friday, 23 March 2012

I'm Your Fire

I've missed having Venus Williams on tour recently.  Largely for the aggressive tennis and supreme athleticism, but also for the bonkers outfits and my own personal need to shoehorn unnecessary and inappropriate Bananarama song lyrics into blog posts.

The Miami Sony Ericsson Open this fortnight heralded her return to the pro tour after a prolonged absence through illness.  Having not played since the US Open (save a dead rubber in the Fed Cup), where she was forced to withdraw before a potentially tricky second round match against Sabine Lisicki, Venus looked in commanding form as she rocketed through her R1 Miami opponent (fellow old-timer Kimiko Date-Krumm) 60 63, starting the match with carefully-placed ace.  There was to be no repeat of their tantalising Wimbledon match of 2011 in which Venus needed 3 sets and 2 hours 56 minutes before rolling out a 67 63 86 winner.

Venus will now face Petra Kvitova in one of the most highly anticipated matches of the second round.  Kvitova has yet to kickstart her season following her strong 2011 and the YEC in Istanbul, but her left-handed power-game may prove a match too far for the returning American.  All eyes will be on the main stadium at 7:30pm (Miami time) as the two do battle for a third round place.

Also significant about Venus' return is the relaunch of her EleVen clothing range.  Frequent iterations of her tennis-wear have been overly fussy, frequently inappropriate and often sensational rather than wearable.  Her Wednesday match this week saw her modelling a more conservative outfit with some natty colour-blocking and patterning in black and white - a more conservative and classic design. It's almost Lacoste like in it's simplicity.  For once, Venus has got the fashion right for EleVen on-court.

Elsewhere three other comebacks were being completed at Miami.

Sister Serena, absent since a injury-fuelled but nonetheless surprising R4 exit at the Australian Open, shot straight back to winning ways with a routine R2 victory 62 63 over the Chinese wild card Shuai Zhang.  Serena is on track to meet Kim Clijsters in the Quarter Final of the competition, the Belgian having come through her first round match against Jarmilla Gajdosova, albeit with a slow-start.  Her R2 match was much more straightforward, slaying her first seed of the campaign, the German Julia Goerges, in straight sets 62 75.  Standing between these two are Stosur and Wozniacki as potential fourth round opponents, but either may wobble on the day allowing Serena and/or Clijsters to progress.

Finally, the last high-profile returnee is Alisa Kleybanova, who is returning to the game after a recent struggle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  It would have taken a particularly cruel hearted opponent to have defeated the Russian in her first match back and her 3-set first round win takes her through to a more sterner test against fellow-countryman Maria Kirilenko.

For all four there's a sense that they're back on fire and ready for more.

Still got it? (Yeah baby she's got it).

Photo from elevenbyvenus.com

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bartoli to Sharapova

Four of the seeds from the top half of the ladies singles draw failed to make it through to the third round of this fortnight's Indian Wells Championships.  While Daniela Hantuchova and Yanina Wickmayer put up spirited performances against Zakopalova and Gajdisova, gaining a set each in the process, 12th seed Jelena Jankovic flunked to a straight sets defeat by American wild card and ITF stalwart Jamie Hampton.  Despite the obligatory bathroom break, Jankovic failed to capitalise on the recent strong form she experienced in Malaysia, perhaps struggling to catch-up after the round-trip between the two tournaments.  The only other seed to struggle was the unlucky 13th, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Elsewhere the majority of the other top names made it through to the third round, but while Petra Kvitova, Aqa Radwanska, Vera Zvonareva and Julia Goerges blasted through in straight sets, top seed Victoria Azarenka found life difficult against Mona Barthel, dropping the middle set on a tie-break, before claiming the final set with a tie-break to six.

Marion Bartoli
The staggered schedule means that the seeds positioned in the bottom half of the draw start their tournament today and in Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharpova contains three past champions.

Quarter 3 runs from Marion Bartoli to Wozniacki with Kaia Kanepi, Lucie Safarova, Francesca Schiavone, Ivanovic, Shuai Peng and Monica Niculescu in-between.  So much has been said about Wozniacki and her season so far, that it need not be repeated.  For Ivanovic to face Bartoli in the quarter would seem a logical progression of this section of the draw, and if the Frenchwoman isn't fully fit following the recent calf injury sustained in Doha, Ivanovic could well proceed through to the semi-final.

The fourth and final quarter runs from 5th seed Sam Stosur through to 2nd seed Maria Sharapova.  It would have to be a succession of very bad days at the office were Sharapova not to make it through to the quarter final, but Stosur is facing a particularly tricky draw if she plans to join the Russian at that stage of the competition.  Assuming that she overcomes the first hurdle of Irina Falconi, she will then face Nadia Petrova, before a 4th round match-up with either Sabine Lisicki or Maria Kirilenko.  The drawmasters, it seems, have conspired to make her path full of all the players that she struggles against, and it reads in parts like her path to the US Open victory last September which she traversed with difficulty and ease in equal measures.

On paper it would be hard to place Stosur anywhere other than opposite Sharapova in the QF next week, but in Stosur's head there could be one or two titanic obstacles that block her path along the way.

Bartoli Stosur or Bartoli Sharapova?  Ivanovic Stosur or Ivanovic Sharapova?  The bookends of the drawsheet should make it through to the semi, and Sharapova could well topple the Frenchwoman to set up a rematch of either the 2011 Wimbledon final against Petra Kvitova or the 2012 Australian final against Victoria Azarenka.

image from http://tennis.si.com/2012/03/08/marion-bartoli-set-to-miss-olympics/ credit: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Aga Wins in Dubai

Agnieska Radwanska became only the second top ten player to secure a WTA tour title this year as she rounds off a largely unfaltering week in Dubai with a straight sets victory over Julia Goerges 75 64.

The victory for the Polish player sees her overtake Sam Stosur in the rankings, securing a top 5 spot for the first time in her career.

It was a tournament seriously short on the biggest names as Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka withdrew citing injuries and the Williams requested leave to attend Miami fashion week.  It ended up being bookended by typically yo-yo performances from Caroline Wozniacki and Stosur.  It was Radwanska who took the opportunity of the absenteeism to stamp her mark on the event, dropping only 1 set (against Jelena Jankovic) before lifting the trophy.

Only Radwanska and Azarenka from the top 10 have secured trophies in the first two months of the season - Azarenka picking up Sydney, Doha and the Australian Open.  In each of these three tournaments Azarenka and Radwanska played on route to the final and in each of them the Belarusian emerged the winner.

Azarenka remains unbeaten in 2012, and Radwanska remains unbeaten by anyone other than Victoria Azarenka in 2012.

image from WTA site. copyright Getty Images

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Radwanska Goerges Preview

A rather long list of withdrawals and absentees from the WTA top 20 in the first quarter of the season has garnered world number 6 Agnieszka Radwanska and current German number 3 Julia Goerges (19th in the rankings) their first tournament finals of the year.

Those who have handed sicknotes to the Dubai tournament directors include Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Li Na, Vera Zvonareva, Andrea Petkovic, Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters. For a Premier tournament this early in the season the top name attendance is considerably low, and potential injuries and lacklustre performances look set to add to the list as Bartoli and Cibulkova both look to have struggled in recent events.

Nevertheless, Radwanska and Goerges have made their ways through the depleted field to set up this afternoon's final. And the Polish player will go into the match as the clear favourite. The only time the two have met previously was last month at the Australian Open. The score on that occasion was embarrassingly lopsided with Aga taking down her R16 opponent 61 61.

Should Radwanska repeat this today (and the stats leading in to the match suggest that she shouldn't be given too much trouble by the German) then she will rise to her highest placing in the rankings so far as she overtakes Sam Stosur for the number 5 spot.

image from pokerpurist.com

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Aloha Doha

The first non-slam premier event for the women takes place this week in the big money location of Doha, Qatar, where amongst the top billing names competing will be Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur, Vera Zvonareva, Sabine Lisicki and Aga Radwanska. Calling the outcome of this championship will be tough - for Azarenka it will be her first tournament with the number one by her name, and her first appearance (after last weekend's Fed Cup stutter) since the Australian Open final.

In the first instance it is strange to see a draw sheet with Wozniacki's name on it where she doesn't appear on the top line. Her slip from 1-seed to 4 means that she no longer occupies the top of the draw. In Doha she's the number 2 seed, so peculiarly finds herself in the bottom half of the draw. The two players in between Azarenka and Wozniacki are both not playing - Petra Kvitova withdrawing late in the day with a heel injury.

Quarter by quarter the draw looks like this. Top seed Azarenka has a relatively straightforward path to the quarters - the only runaround she should get will be Francesca Schiavone propping up that quarter. In fact Schiavone could well have the rougher ride with Yanina Wickmayer as her first post-bye match. Neither Daniela Hantuchova nor Anastasia Pavlyuchenko should cause too much trouble for either seed, unless the question mark over Azarenka's back injury that led to her Fed Cup withdrawal pings again.

The next quarter, which will contain Azarenka's possible semi-final opponent is a tricky one to call. At one end is Radwanska whose path through contains a lot of as yet undetermined qualifiers. And at the base of the left-hand side of the draw is Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic is a perennial yo-yo - a solid run at the Australian Open was followed by a lacklustre Fed Cup compounded with an injury.  She could be upset well before the quarters. Difficult to call Radwanska's progress, but a close tie is likely if she meets Julia Goerges in the last 16. It's mostly hers to lose here, so she should advance to a semi at least.

Quarter 3 is Zvonareva (last year's champion) through #3 seed Stosur. Stosur is something of a bogey player for the Russian, who has been sliding down the rankings for a while and could well struggle to regain previous form amidst the new batch of tennis stars. Stosur's clinical dispatch of Zvonareva at 2011's Flushing Meadows evidencing the lopsided nature of their game style match-up. It's a tricky quarter for both women though, although on paper Flavia Pennetta, Dominika Cibulkova, Sonia Cirstea, Ana Ivanovic and the rest shouldn't stand too much of a chance against either player. Stosur's determined performances at the Fed Cup in Switzerland should have redressed some of the damage done in January during the Aussie tournaments, and with Doha being so far away from home soil it should stand her with a good chance of the title ... provided she can keep her brain in check.

Quarter 4 contains the in-form player of the season - Marion Bartoli, who this weekend made it through to the Paris final where she lines up as favourite. Unfortunately for her, Wozniacki, Lisicki Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko and Andrea Kerber also make this the most difficult draw of the tournament.

Lisicki and Bartoli to meet in the 16, with Bartoli facing Kuznetsova in the quarters.

Calling the semis: Azarenka Radwanska, with the Polish player causing the upset on the number 1 seed in 3.  And on the opposite side Stosur upending Bartoli in another tough three-setter.

Calling the championship - it's Stosur for this one. But as with all Stosur tournaments it's a very thin line between making the final and crashing out humiliatingly in the first round. Here's hoping that the former is on display in Qatar this week.

image from: http://www.qatarisbooming.com/2012/02/12/qatar-airways-celebrates-10-years-of-top-womens-tennis-action-in-qatar/

Friday, 30 December 2011

2012 WTA Predictions


2011 was an odd year for the WTA.  Four different Slam winners, 7 different GS finalists and a number 1 in the ranking who failed to win any of the big tournaments again.

Here's the 1-10 ended up in December:

1 - Caroline Wozniacki
2 - Petra Kvitova
3 - Victoria Azarenka
4 - Maria Sharapova
5 - Li Na
6 - Sam Stosur
7 - Vera Zvonareva
8 - Aga Radwanska
9 - Marion Bartoli
10 - Andrea Petkovic

Missing from the list are 2 names that could well have dominated the year had they been fit.  Coming in at 12 and 13 - Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters.  

In a year largely without these two the season was very much everyone else's for the taking.  And the natural successor should have been Sharapova, but she fell extraordinarily flat at a number of the big tournaments of the year, and has announced her withdrawal from the start of the season with a recurrence of the ankle injury that plagued her in the Asian tournaments at the end of 2011.

2012 will probably see a shift in the rankings.  If Williams and Clijsters are both fit then they should climb the rankings to a top five finish. 2012 is an Olympic year and either or both may want a strong finish and an Olympic medal to add to their considerable achievements.  With both of them approaching/over 30, their injury woes may continue to dominate their seasons, and like Venus may end up on the sidelines for most of the season.  It will be sad if this happens, but could well be likely.  Clijsters, particularly is a breath of fresh air to the women's game and in previous seasons when the Williams have dominated has been able to carry through a suitable degree of threat to the twosome.  She won in Melbourne at the beginning of 2011 and could have been the big player through the first half of the season if she hadn't been injured.

The Year End Cup in Istanbul perhaps heralds the future of the women's game.  Both Petra Kvitova (a champion at Wimbledon last summer) and Victoria Azarenka competed the final, with Kvitova eventually winning in 2.  Both of these players have shown dominant streaks throughout the previous year and could well be the pair to watch in 2012.  Kvitova, in particular is where the smart money lies for holding the top spot by the end of the year.
As great as it was for Li Na and Sam Stosur to win grand slams, both will struggle to repeat the feat in 2012.  Stosur, particularly would be a popular second-time winner, but the sense of immense underachievement that surrounds her does make the 2011 US Open victory seem something of an anomaly in a career plagued with mediocrity.  All the press conferences and news slots where she talks about her new found confidence and greater handling of pressure probably won't see her through the third round of many of the majors.  If she hadn't won the US last year her placing in the rankings would probably have been at around 15, well on the slide and back jostling with Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova for the double figure seedings in the tournaments occupied by players that never quite made as much of an impact that they should have.

Li Na too will probably struggle to repeat 2011, but if she could recapture some of the drive that took her to the Australian final and the French championship then she may end up with some good results.  But the amount of first round exits that followed her Roland Garros championships and the weight of expectation from a nation of 1.4 billion may be too much for her to cope with.

Zvonareva and Bartoli will probably also drop in the standings - they've very much had their chances and may not improve on current rankings.
Aside from Kvitova and Azarenka the bright young things that could well dominate the rankings in the coming year are Radwanska, Petkovic and (current ranking 15) Sabine Lisicki, with (21) Julia Georges and (28) Maria Kirilenko not too far behind.  And as much as I would like to say that Wozniacki will not be a top ten player by the end of the year I do think that she will manage to hold on to a lot of the points that she currently has, even though 2012 will not reward her with any grand slam finals, and London probably won't be cracking out the score sheet for the Danish national anthem at the Olympic Games.

So picking some winners, I'm playing it safe - lets have the majors shared: Australia: Clijsters, Roland Garros: Kvitova, Wimbledon: Kvitova, US Open: Clijsters, and a year end for Kvitova.  and a top ten that may very well look like this:

1 - Kvitova
2 - Azarenka
3 - Wozniacki
4 - Clijsters
5 - Petkovic
6 - Radwanska
7 - Sharapova
8 - Serena Williams
9 - Lisicki
10 - Stosur

And some retirees from the game - possibly Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Penetta, Nadia Petrova, Greta Arn (it's about time) and more than likely Venus Williams if the injury woes continue.  I do think that the women's tour feel feeble retiring at 30 when Kimiko Date-Krumm is still playing at 40.

image of serena holding the rogers cup trophy after defeating sam stosur in august (c) reuters/mark blinch from: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2011/12/30/2011-in-sport-the-best-tennis-photos-of-the-year/
petra kvitova from wta website: http://www.wtatennis.com/gallery/20111030/istanbul-gallery-quiet-before-the-storm_2256674_2499223?imageNo=3#picture (c) getty

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Halfway Point US Open (Women's)

After a week of tennis at the US Open the women's draw has been left with with mostly familiar faces.  The bigger names to have gone so far include Maria Sharapova, Williams (Venus), Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka, with all but Azarenka in the bottom half of the draw - which leaves that side of the route to the final very open.

First up is a non-seeded affair: the Romania Monica Nicolescu vs Angelique Kerber of Germany.  Having not seen either of these players play yet on the highlights I'll say that it's an either or situation.  In the next round they'll meet Peng or Flavia Pennetta, so the unseeded play is likely to fall at the QF stage.  Pennetta, of course, put out Sharapova while Peng defeated the promising teenager Julia Goerges.  Peng had the less troubled match, so it would probably be safest to pick her over Pennetta, but the Italian must be on a high after defeating one of the favourites for the tourney.

The final 4 in the bottom half pits Sam Stosur vs Maria Kirilenka and Sabine Lisicki against Vera Zvonereva.  There is an aggression and excitement about the way Lisicki plays, and it woudl be good to see her defeat the more conservative number 2 seed - and the ease with which the German has breezed through the first week may mean that she'll get one up on the Russian.  The newly-confident Stosur in the other pairing looks like a sensible bet for a QF opponent.  Her marathon match vs Nadia Petrova means she spent nearly an hour and a half longer on court than Kirilenko, but if her game's on form then she's got the forehand and the serve to defeat the Russian easily.

Much as I really want Stosur to win the whole thing, but it's probably not likely that that's going to happen.  also - is it just me, or does she play a whole lot better when she's NOT wearing the Oakleys?

The top half of the draw is a more familiar affair, and it is probable that the eventual winner will come from this side of the draw.

1st up - Caroline Wozniacki vs Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Earlier in the year I'd have quaffed at Wozniacki getting past the 2nd round of any major, but she seems to be justifying her #1 ranking at the moment.  Kuznetsova, a former champion here, will be a stern test for her, but the way Wozniacki is playing you have to back her over the Russian.

The winner of that match-up will have to play either Andrea Petkovic vs the Spaniard Navarro.  A sensible pick of Petkovic here.  Even though she has a clinical annoyance ingrained in her personality.

The 2nd quarter of the draw is the big one.  Williams (Serena) vs Ana Ivanovic.  Ivanovic is playing great at this tourney, but Serena is moving so fast, clinically taking the ball and hitting with power and accuracy.  It is hard to see Ivanovic beating the American when she's on this form.  She'll have to pray for an injury to Serena, but that doesn't seem likely.  This is a well-planned comeback and has been geared towards winning the US Open.  Be silly to bet against her here.

Finally we have Pavlyuchenkova vs Francesca Schiavone.  Much as Schiavone sounds like she's screaming swearwords whenever she hits the ball she'll probably win this one and hopefull set up a match-up of the round vs Serena in the QF.  I really hate the shriekers in women's tennis, so it's good that Sharapova and Azarenka (the two prime culprits) are out.  When schiavone goes out hopefully we'll have a shriek-free final.

So overall - head would have to say another S.J.W. trophy.  But it woud be good if Stosur was to win this one.  It's probably her best shot.  Saying that, though, she does have a touch of the Andy Murray about her, so prepare to see her go out at the next stage.

Photo by: Don Starr/usopen.org

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